The Stephen Batchelor talk in NYC last Friday was a treat.
It was my first visit to the Insight Meditation Center on West 27th Street. The main elevator was out of service, so I hoofed it up to the 10th floor. Nice workout. When I got to to the top, I learned I could have taken the freight elevator. No matter.
It’s a beautiful space, with a Buddhist altar set up in one corner near the windows. Stephen came in and had us all meditate for about 25 minutes, giving occasional guidance to those in the room who were new to the practice.
His talk concerned what it means to be a lay Buddhist in the 21st century. He pointed out that until quite recently, Buddhist laity participated in a mainly devotional practice that was geared toward supporting the monastics. Now, the laity by and large are more educated, and have the time to actually study Buddhism. This, Stephen said, necessitates a change in the way Buddhism is practiced, at least here in the West.
The thing that really seemed to strike a chord with his audience was the irony of Buddhists insisting that Buddhism not change while simultaneously teaching impermanance.
Afterward I was able to speak with him briefly, and he signed my copy of his book Buddhism Without Beliefs. He seemed genuinely gratified when I said it was his book that made Buddhism available to me.
I really identify with the agnostic Buddhism that Batchelor advocates — for him, Buddhism can still be practiced without involving rebirth, karma, or complex cosmologies. It’s one of the things that spurs me on to find a simpler, American Zen.